Gaming with the Westbank Gamers

I was in New Orleans this week at a banking conference, but managed to squeeze
in one evening of gaming with the Westbank
Gamers
thanks to a welcoming invitation from
Greg Schloesser. I have followed his gaming group for the past year – Greg
writes very entertaining session reports and is an extremely prolific writer /
reviewer.

It took about 30 minutes to get to Greg’s house via taxi from my hotel – I had
to navigate for the driver and he made a few wrong turns. When I finally
arrived I found a room full of gamers (at least 15 people) and was warmly
greeted and introduced.

Greg has each table make detailed notes of the games played, so you should
expect to see a session report from him soon after he returns from his
vacation in Ireland. He also has all players rate the games played on a 1-10
scale. I like his model and may consider adopting it for my local game
sessions.

Thanks to the group for inviting me and for providing such a welcoming
atmosphere!

Princes of the Renaissance

I’ve been reading about this game in many of the session
reports from Essen and was anxious to try it. There are some reviews and
reports here,
here,
here, and
here. I
played with Jimbo, Dave, Jerry, Spouey, and Jason.

The basic idea in this game is to purchase, through auctions, characters in
one of the five major cities in Italy. These characters will score victory
points at the end of the game based on the relative status ranking of their
city. Status can change through war or through the recruitment of artists that
increase status. Play proceeds through three decades (each decade is a game
phase that ends when all artists for that age have been purchased). Within the
decade, play rotates clockwise with each player choosing a single action to
take. Actions include putting a character or artist up for auction, recruiting
a military unit, having one city attack another, or purchasing a treachery
tile. Victory points can also be earned by winning battles and recruiting
certain characters or artists.

I’m usually hesitant to think too much about strategy when learning a new game
like this. Since this is an auction game, I decided to follow the tactic of
trying to bid up some of the early auctions while not winning them myself –
this can be dangerous if your bluff gets called, but I figured worst case I’ll
be accumulating some characters at a slight premium. It worked out well as I
was able to snatch up some bargains at the tail ends of all three decades.
Which leads to another point – especially with a six-player game, you truly
never can tell when your last action of a decade will be. There are (I think)
4 artists available in each decade, and if players start snatching them up,
the decade can end quickly. Since I chose a prince that gives a particular
military bonus (artillery), I made sure I grabbed a few military units early
on. This led to an arms race where about 75% of the military units were
purchased in the first few actions.

Someone had mentioned that in a previous game, the player that won had earned
10 VPs through military victory (the first win gives 1VP, the second 2 more,
the third 3 more, etc.), so I figured a decent strategy would be to try and
recruit at least 4 characters in the game, then use military force to elevate
the status of their cities. To that end, I tried to ensure that the characters
I recruited gave military bonuses of some sort.

Combat is interesting in this game. Players don’t declare war against each
other – rather, a player can force one city to attack another. Then players
bid for the right to serve as the attacker or defender. There’s little to lose
in fighting, and much to gain, so bidding can be fierce. At the very least,
you can make some profit if your bid ends up being less than the current
status since the city pays the player that much to fight on their behalf (we
are just mercenaries after all).

I was on the winning side of combat three times, and managed to hold 4
characters at the end of the game in the 2 highest cities. I managed to win
with a score of 33. Other scores were Jerry-29, Jason-27, Jimbo-24, Dave-23,
Spouey-18. I like this game a lot and will probably pick it up sometime over
the holiday season – I rate it an 8 for now.

I’ll post pictures for a few of the other games played without commentary –
like I said, I’m sure Greg will write them up soon.

Circus Maximus (Rome version)

Maya

Finstere Flure

This one looks fun – I was hoping to get in on this game but the timing didn’t
work out.

Spank the Monkey

I just can’t wait to see what sort of Google
hits
my
weblog will start tracking after writing up this game. Unfortunate that they
had to give the game this name – I suspect it will turn off some prospective
buyers. It truly is a fun game!

Jim, Jason and I decided to give this one a try. Very simple to learn, and
very quick to play. I compare it to Flux in terms of chaos and variable game
length, though there probably is a marginal amount of strategy hat can be
applied in this game. The basic premise is to stack junk into a pile in a
junkyard so that you can climb to the top of your stack and spank a monkey
that is on his own pile of junk. And you want to do this before anyone else
does. On your turn you can add or reinforce your own junk tower or try and
knock pieces out of your opponents’ tower. Jim and Jason each won a single
game; I was winless.

Shark

Lost Cities

Fantasy Pub

Greg and I finally managed to synch up to play a game together, and after some
deliberation we decided to try Fantasy Pub, a game given to him at Essen so
that he could write a review. It looked like a promising light game – players
control a party of 7 fantasy characters (hobbits, dwarves, warriors, and an
orc) that are trying to drink as much beer as possible in a pub. There are
fiddly rules about how characters move around the pub, when they can drink
beer, and how they can leave the pub.

This game doesn’t work with five players. We had serious lockup issues, and
for such a light game the downtime was unbearable. Three different times I
waited 5 minutes for my turn to happen, only to roll the dice to find that all
I could do was rotate my hobbit around the bar one full cycle and achieve
nothing. It just got too crowded to be able to apply any sort of strategy and
turned into a dice fest. I’m not excited to play this one again, but if I was
forced to I would make sure there were only 2 or 3 players in the game.

Die Sieben Siegel

We wrapped up the evening with a short game of Die Sieben Siegel (the seven
seals), a trick-taking game similar to spades or bridge. Players make bids of
exactly how many of each suit they will take (no more or less), and there are
some interesting twists that make this a winner for me. I grew up playing
games like this (particularly spades and hearts and my grandparents’ home),
and given the choice between trick-taking and rummy style games, I think I
prefer trick games. I will probably pick this one up. Shanna was on fire and
won this game easily (we only played 2 hands). I was in second place not too
far behind.